We hope that everyone is staying safe and well during these unusual times.
As you may imagine, this newsletter will be short on reports of actual events: our weekly Vigil for Peace, maintained more or less every Friday evening for nearly 20 years, the monthly Peace Table, our regular Steering Group meetings — all have been curtailed by the Covid-19 emergency. The same applies to events in the Peace Movement as a whole, of course. However, on-line activism has increased hugely since lockdown in mid-March, and some of our members, ever adaptable and resourceful, have been participating in Zoom conferences and Webinars (see Alison Williams’s reports below). Hopefully, you too, have been inspired by some of this on-line activity.
There has been some physical activity. Several members responded to a suggestion from Merton Heritage, and made and displayed doves of peace in their windows on May 8th, the anniversary of VE Day. You can see photos on the WDC/CND Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WDC.CND/albums/337685036305688/. What of other events scheduled for later in the year? Well, we do not yet know if we will be able to hold our usual Hiroshima Day commemoration in August. Likewise, it is uncertain if Remembrance Sunday in November will be commemorated in the usual way. That is out of our hands, but we will keep an eye on any announcements.
The last time the Steering Group met (in February) we set a provisional date of 26 September for an event to commemorate Sheila Knight. Again, we won’t know for a while if this will actually be possible. We will keep you up to date, as and when Government advice about the lockdown changes and we can make firmer plans.
Over 200 Palestinian sports teams have called on the company PUMA to end its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association because of their link to illegal settlements. Every Israeli settlement is a war crime under international law, and PUMA is lending its brand name to sustain them. On 7th May, I wrote to Robert-Jan Bartunek and several other managers in PUMA along the lines of a standard letter prepared by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
“Thank you for reaching out to PUMA.
“PUMA’s local distribution partner supplies the Israeli National Teams with PUMA branded football equipment to compete in international competitions. We do not have any other official connection or association with any other Israeli club team — neither in mainland Israel nor in settlements.... As a brand concerned only with the power that Sport has to bring people together, PUMA does not support any political direction, political parties or governments. We welcome the opportunity to help everyone compete in sports no matter who they are or where they are from.”
I then followed up with more personal observations, hoping to attract his attention by using a handwritten William Morris card:
“Dear Robert-Jan, a few more points.
“Sport is a very important medium for bringing people together, but— on the other hand international sport has often looked as though it approves of quite unworthy regimes. I am old enough to remember apartheid in South Africa and the consistent and very long campaigns against it. The shaming of South Africa through sport including refusal to play their teams was an important factor in breaking apartheid. What Israel is doing to the Palestinians is truly shameful. It would be helpful for PUMA to show its ethical stance by refusing to supply anything to Israel.”
You will recall that Sheila Knight, a long-term and active member of WDC/CND, left a very generous bequest to the group, of £3770. There has been much discussion at Steering Group meetings about how to ensure that the money is spent in the best possible way to commemorate her. The last time that the Steering Committee was able to meet was in February, and at that meeting we agreed to pay £1,000 to National CND and £500 to London CND, both of which need donations to fund campaigns. The remainder will be used to set up a regular Sheila Knight Memorial Event (hopefully annually). We have set a provisional date of 26 September 2020 for the first one, but have been unable to make any headway with further arrangements due to the Covid-19 emergency. As soon as we are able to confirm a venue and other details, we will let everyone know.
Both CND and Medact had webinars toward the end of April on the subject of Arms Conversion. The Peace Movement was encouraged by reports that arms companies like Rolls-Royce and Airbus were included in the consortium asked to produce ventilators and personal protective equipment for the NHS. The objective of arms conversion has a long history but the Covid-19 crisis has given it immediate relevance.
Those of us with long memories will remember the enthusiasm which greeted the Lucas Plan in 1976. At a time when mass redundancies were looming, shop stewards from across the departments at Lucas Aerospace researched how the knowledge and engineering skills of the workforce could be used to produce socially useful products. In 2016 a 40th anniversary conference put new heart into supporters: not an exercise in nostalgia, but the foundation for a New Lucas Plan.
Stuart Parkinson, Director of Scientists for Global Responsibility, recalled the period immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall when steep cuts in military spending promised a “peace dividend”. In Britain this meant the loss of many jobs in the armaments industry and a growth in green energy jobs, especially since 2000. At present — though this is “the elephant in the room” for some — there are more green jobs gained than armaments jobs lost.
He concluded with examples of the current factory conversions to produce medical equipment. Seven out of 29 companies in one consortium are major arms producers, for example Airbus in Wales. This conversion from military to civilian products could be scaled up to create a Green New Deal plus security benefits.
Underlying both webinars was of course the hope that with the present dismal outlook for jobs and the economy at large decision-makers will be open to a radical shift away from our “over-dependence on the armaments industry”. By the end of May, Rolls-Royce and others were warning of massive job losses and years before recovery. Can we use this window of opportunity to transform our ‘war economy’ into one focused on developments in housing, transport, renewable energy and general social welfare, and create a genuinely New Normal?
The UN Secretary-General’s call for a Global Ceasefire on 23 March received wide coverage and by early April the UN could report that in 12 countries at least one party to a conflict “had acknowledged the appeal although with differing levels of zeal and very unequal degrees of follow-through.” However it failed to get Security Council backing, with both the US and Russia opposing the call in case it might inhibit taking military action against terrorists.
On 12th May the LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security co-hosted a webinar to discuss the situation. 110 countries by then supported ‘the pledge’, but of the ceasefires to date, four were on-going (Angola, Cameroon, Sudan and Thailand), two had ended (Colombia and Philippines) and three had been broken (Libya, Yemen and Myanmar), with things looking “pretty bleak on the ground”.
The situation is frustrating for women who rejoiced in the passing of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace & Security twenty years ago, and have seen little progress since. Teresa Whitfield, from the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, said that of late there has been a lot more inclusivity in peace-making but all too often the only thing conflict parties agree about is that they do not want women at the table. Nevertheless, she hopes that this Covid-19 time will have “an accelerator effect” on negotiations, many of which have been going on for years.
There were some successes to report. Rajaa Ataali, from the Centre for Civil Society and Democracy in Syria, had been able to achieve digital communication between Syrian families and members who had been in detention for years. And Muna Luqman’s Solidarity Network in Yemen had gained sufficient trust from leaders and tribes to get 940 detainees released following the Covid-19 emergency.
She was agreeably shocked to have a delegation of 16 women invited to talks in Geneva. There have been hundreds of ceasefires in Yemen and people don’t believe in them. Muna wants to see many more local people working together in community groups. The armed parties are using the pandemic to suit themselves and thousands of displaced families are fleeing violence. “But women have claimed their space.”
A new report by the UK Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee says that the Ministry of Defence has left the taxpayer to shoulder billion-pound cost increases due to the MoD’s poor contract design and management.
Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said:
“To utterly fail to learn from mistakes over decades, to spectacularly repeat the same mistakes at huge cost to the taxpayer — and at huge cost to confidence in our defence capabilities — is completely unacceptable. We see too often these same mistakes repeated.”
In response to the report, Kate Hudson, CND general secretary, said:
“The billions being wasted on Trident by the MoD is a national scandal. Trident has become a bottomless pit for spending, with billions being poured in and nothing useful coming out. This is morally contemptible when we consider the heroic efforts of carers, nurses and doctors, who are fighting a pandemic for a National Health Service that has been starved of the resources it needs for a decade.
“The billions being wasted on a phantom threat should be spent on addressing the real threat before us. Use the money to give carers a pay rise, to give them the PPE and equipment they need, and invest now in healthcare and real security to get on top of this crisis and prepare for future threats.”
CND has joined a new coalition, ‘Build Back Better’, led by an organisation called 350 which was set up in 2009. Their website https://350.org states: “We’re an international movement of ordinary people working to end the age of fossil fuels and build a world of community-led renewable energy for all”
The first webinar (of what will be a series), took place on 21st May. It was preceded by the following statement from Ellen, UK Organiser for 350.org: “This pandemic has turned the world upside down. It’s truly heart-warming and so powerful to see people coming together to fight for a recovery plan that puts people and planet first.
“We’ll be joined on the call by special guest speakers from London Renters Union, Green New Deal UK and Nurses United who will be discussing our demands for a better future, plus you’ll have a chance to ask questions and we’ll be letting you know how to get stuck into building this campaign from the ground up.
“Working together, we can create a world where our NHS and crucial public services are protected; where communities are bailed out instead of big business interests; and where a Green New Deal delivers us a safe climate and thousands of new secure and well-paid jobs.”
You can watch the video of the first webinar online via YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W47JF-soGc
CND have produced an exciting new Peace Education pack, Critical Mass, which we must try to introduce in schools. At a time when there is more interest in political activity among the young, Critical Mass is a great teaching aid to help children and young people gain a greater understanding of the world we live in.
It contains lessons on International Disagreements, Nuclear Negotiations and Gender, Women’s Peace Activism, Atomic Bomb Survivors and Art, Uranium Mining in Northern Australia and Philosophy for Children. These are designed to help teachers combine social justice, peace and their subject curriculum in the classroom.
In a world seeming more divided and dangerous, women’s equality, anti-racism and identity politics are all pressing issues for young people. Critical Mass uses examples citing these issues together with nuclear weapons to encourage students to appreciate their complex interrelationships.
Cross curricular activities suggested include English, Citizenship, History, with specific lesson plans for Drama, Art & Design, and Geography/Geology. There is something for all age groups.
Praise for this latest initiative has come from teachers and the press, for example:
“An excellent and professional delivery that promoted cross-curricular learning. The students were engaged throughout the session. Resources are well designed to promote personal responses.” (Alice Player, teacher)
“The lesson can captivate a restless class and it’s great for pupils who like to learn on their feet. There’s no time for fidgeting or boredom here.” (Times Educational Supplement)